Aug. 19, 2022 By Michael Dorgan
Robert De Niro is currently developing a massive studio complex in Astoria—although he is coming under fire for hiring non-union construction workers to help build it.
Around 100 protesters rallied outside the Tribeca Film Center in Lower Manhattan Wednesday to demand the legendary actor only employ unionized workers to construct his new studio complex. The center hosts the Tribeca Film Festival, which De Niro co-founded in 2002.
The demonstrators consisted of mostly union workers who brought with them a giant inflatable rat to help draw attention to their cause.
De Niro, who turned 79 this week, is developing a 775,000-square-foot site on 19th Avenue near the Steinway Creek, with his son Raphael De Niro and producer Jane Rosenthal via a company called Wildflower Ltd. The project is estimated to cost around $600 million.
The demonstrators, many of whom previously rallied outside the 35-15 19th Ave. site in June, are upset that Wildflower Ltd is using non-unionized workers to construct the state-of-the-art facility, which will include 11 sound stages—in addition to carpentry shops, dressing rooms, lounges and office spaces.
The protesters included members of SMART Sheet Metal Workers Local 28, Laborers Local 79, Steamfitters Local 638 and other union workers. They set up a 12-foot inflatable rodent called Scabby the Rat that is symbolic of union protests. A poster consisting of a picture of DeNiro with the words “Shame on Robert De Niro,” was taped to the belly of the rat.
There was also a protester dressed in a rat costume and a De Niro lookalike at the rally.
The protesters said that De Niro pledged to hire more than 1,000 union workers to staff Wildflower when the complex opens—but argue he should be using union workers to build it. They say that non-union construction contractors pay their workers less and have a bad history of safety violations in New York City.
De Niro, they say, is also a union member himself and praised unions when he accepted a lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild more than two and a half years ago.
SMART Local 28 President and Business Manager Eric Meslin called on De Niro to practice what he preaches and hire unionized workers.
“If he really values unions and what they stand for — such as area standard wages, benefits, healthcare and worker representation — then why choose to allow exploited workers who will not earn a ‘living wage’ on his project?” Meslin said.
“New York City construction unions should build this studio; they built the middle class and continue to lift workers out of poverty.”
It is unclear how many workers are currently employed on the Wildflower construction project, and how many of them are non-union.
Following the protest in June, Stan Rosenfield, a representative for De Niro, told the New York Post that most laborers on the Wildflower site at the time were unionized.
“We support a diverse and inclusive workforce and feel it’s essential not to exclude non-union workers from being awarded our construction jobs,” he said. “A substantial portion of the job is being constructed with union labor.”
The Queens Post reached out to Rosenfield Thursday for comment as to the latest protest. He has yet to respond.